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San Marino's Lacy Park Is a Jewel That Mostly Shines Unseen

March 26, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

When a year of tumult finally ended, San Marino's Lacy Park remained the same--and that's the problem.

On a glorious spring morning when birds' songs and the fragrance of blossoms filled the air, fewer than a dozen people dotted its pastoral landscape. Later parents brought little children to play, and youngsters in gym classes from nearby schools came to run. At twilight, when the metal gates were locked, Lacy Park was unblemished.

The jewel in San Marino's crown, a 35-acre Eden, remains pristine because so few get to use it. Since 1978, when Proposition 13 put a big crimp in the city budget, Lacy Park has been closed on weekends and holidays.

"What good is a park that 65% of the residents never see?" asked Mayor Rosemary Simmons on the night in February when, after a yearlong battle, plans to add two courts to a tennis complex at one end of the park were abandoned.

That same night, San Marino resident Jack Connell asked the City Council to focus on what he called the larger issue. "Tennis courts are a small problem compared to the number of people who have been unhappy over the way Lacy Park is being managed for the total community," he said.

For almost 10 years, until the Tennis Foundation sought to add two new courts to the six it operates, residents had seemed resigned to not using their only park. Several said weekend lockouts were the only way to protect the park, which had suffered vandalism from "criminal elements" during the 1970s.

Legal opinions at that time held that public parks could not be restricted to local use, but must be open to San Marino residents and non-residents alike.

"We could not discriminate against any element using the park, so we discriminated against everyone," said City Administrator Brice Stephenson.

But recent council discussions of expanding the tennis facility uncovered some discord beneath the surface of San Marino's resignation.

Even Tennis Foundation President Allen Wolff acknowledged that "people are put out" because tennis players can use the courts in the park on weekends while others cannot use the rest of the park.

The council has asked City Atty. Stephen Dorsey to research the possibility of opening the park on some weekend days. Dorsey said he will submit his report to the city administrator this week.

Councilman Paul Crowley, a longtime resident, said that when Lacy Park was closed on weekends in 1978, "it had gotten so bad it was attracting crime from all over Southern California. People have forgotten how it was when there were 8,000 cars, trash all over and heavy policing was required."

Police Chief James Moore said he doesn't remember such severe problems.

"That was a long time ago," Moore said. "It's true there was quite a crowd on Saturday and Sunday, and in any crowd you're going to find problem people. But the real problem was that after Proposition 13 a lot of (city) employees were terminated. We just didn't have the personnel."

For several generations of people in and around San Marino, Lacy Park has been almost a second home. Its 12 acres of rolling lawns are surrounded by wide paths and gardens. It is uninterrupted by athletic fields and has only a small playground for children and, at its west end, a building for Scouts, the tennis courts and a parking lot.

It became a public park in 1924, after a small lake in its center was drained and San Marino residents approved a $80,000 park bond issue. William Hertrich, superintendent of the nearby Henry Huntington estate, designed it for family recreation and as a botanical garden. Hertrich supervised the planting of 2,000 rare trees and shrubs, many of them donated by Huntington, as well as 175 rose bushes and climbers in the arbor that faces St. Albans Road. The park was named for an early mayor, Richard H. Lacy.

The city has estimated that it would cost $130,000 a year for security and maintenance to open the park on weekends.

"We don't want to get ourselves into a financial bind over this," Mayor Simmons said. "We will be slow, we will be careful. But we are indeed looking into opening the park more."

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